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The Theatre of Angelo Beolco (Ruzante): Text, Context and Performance. (Reviews).

Ronnie Ferguson, The Theatre of Angelo Beolco (Ruzante): Text, Context and Performance

Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2000. 249 pp. 25.82 EUR. ISBN: 88-8063-259-0.

Ronnie Ferguson's book is a welcome addition to the burgeoning assortment of critical investigations of the sixteenth-century Paduan playwright Angelo Beolco, known as Ruzante. Ferguson's subtitle, "Text, Content and Performance," illustrates the virtually indivisible nature for Beolco of theatrical concept and stage performance. One of the unique features of Beolco's theatrical experience was the fact that he wrote, directed and played lead roles in all his own plays. Known for his restless formal experimentation" (7), Beolco saw his stage text as an entity that was in a constant state of evolution, so he never published anything in his lifetime, making the task of reconstructing the original version of the text even more problematic than usual.

In the first of the six sections of his book, Ferguson focuses his attention on "The Ruzante Corpus" itself. Examining each work individually through its varied, extant manuscript versions, he provides an introduction to the work which gives not only the modern title, but also the manuscript titles (if there were any, since some were untitled). He proceeds in his analysis of each play, listing first the dramatis personae, including their description or primary role in the play as well as the language(s) found in the work. Next, he discusses each play's setting, providing basic stage information; moreover, Ferguson includes here indications present in the stage sketch about the backdrop and scenery. In his study of each play's genre, he encapsulates a wealth of information not only about the varied genre present in an individual work, but also about the songs and dances, various types of meter. He also mentions variations in the manuscripts, which address the multiple cities in which the work was staged (a dif ferent prologue, for example, for Padua, for the Paduan area and for Venice). It is within his genre category that he also notes the subtexts that underlie either the work in general or scenes or speeches in particular. In each play's analytical overview, he explains the plot line in a clear, concise, yet richly detailed manner, again adding pertinent details about subtext. His next subcategory discusses performances of the work in Beolco's lifetime as well as its date of composition with a brief critical overview of modern scholarship on the work. He concludes his study of each work with a discussion of the surviving manuscripts, the first edition (if any), modern critical editions, English translations, and essential bibliography. Comprising only the first 72 pages of the book, this initial chapter is a tightly written, compact compendium of information intrinsic to the study of Ruzante, useful to both the scholar and the student of the playwright.

With the manuscript information in mind, the reader can then proceed to the rest of the book and to the impressive bibliography. Ferguson discusses the topics that are common fodder for commentary: critical and production history, biography, patronage, genre, language, staging and finally Ruzantian ethics on the natural." Throughout his investigation, the author eschews supposition and speculation, relying instead on verifiable facts and factors in Beolco's life. In his study of the natural and snaturalite in Ruzante's works, for example, he goes beyond the "probable" explanation for the playwright's centralization of the natural (his own illegitimate state and accompanying partial exclusion from society) and considers, instead, other possible sources of his ethics. Thus he engages in a compelling argument in which Beolco's philosophical considerations take center stage. Beolco, the "counter-Renaissance figure" (197), steeped in the culture of Bembo, Petrarch, Erasmus and the classics, never lost sight of the reality that was playing out around him. Beolco remained "rooted in his snaturalite and in his real and ideal rural homeland" (224).

As the author notes, Ruzante's "relentless exploration of...linguistic media" (122) and his method of polemical implementation of language set him apart from other playwrights of the Cinquecento. Ironically, this same gusto for experimentation and for bucking existing linguistic trends probably came at the price of almost four centuries of anonymity. Ferguson's book, only the third in English since 1978, should facilitate considerably future scholarly investigations of the "famoso," "famosissimo" and "nominatissimo" (73) Angelo Beolco, called Ruzante.
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Author:Mazzocco, Elizabeth H.D.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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